Australia’s housing system is “broken” from decades of failed policies, misdirected government investment and inaction, and the government will need to overhaul tax incentives and fund low-cost rental housing to fix it, industry experts have warned.
A national housing plan launched on Tuesday by an alliance of housing bodies in Australia outlines the tax reforms needed to fund new affordable and social housing as well as stronger legislation to protect renters.
In her address at the National Press Club, campaign director and deputy CEO of Council to Homeless Persons Kate Colvin said rebalancing the tax system was the first step to fixing Australia’s “broken” housing system.
Mrs Colvin said one in five Australian households spent more than 30 per cent of their income on housing and three in four of those were renters.
“I want to reiterate that point because the focus is most usually on home ownership but housing stress is deepest in the rental market,” she said.
“We are calling on government to not only reduce the cost of housing tax concessions, but to also directly reinvest these savings into delivering the second part of our plan – increasing the supply of affordable rental housing,” Mrs Colvin said.
The plan urges the the federal government to develop a national housing strategy that includes new investment to generate 300,000 new properties for social and Aboriginal housing.
It also suggests a new tax incentive or direct subsidy to encourage super funds and other private sector investment in 200,000 low-cost rental properties for low and middle-income earners.
In the 2017 Budget, the Turnbull government tackled housing affordability by introducing the ‘first home super savers scheme’, which allows young homebuyers save up to $30,000 in their super account for a house deposit taxed at 15 per cent instead of the marginal tax rate of 30 per cent, and by ending tax deductions for property investors like travel expenses and depreciation on fixtures.
The campaign, which has partnered with more than a dozen not-for-profit housing organisations including National Shelter, Homelessness Australia and Australian Council of Social Services, highlights the need for consistent protection for renters across the board. This would include abolishing “no grounds” evictions – banning landlords kicking out tenants at the end of a lease without giving any reason, limiting rent increases to once a year, introducing tighter regulations around discrimination and implementing minimum property standards.
The penultimate point proposes an immediate increase in federally-funded rent assistance until low-cost housing is created to ensure people who are vulnerable are not without a home. Finally, and ultimately, the plan wants to end homelessness by 2030.
“The plan needs to include concrete action to prevent and better respond to domestic and family violence – the number one cause of homelessness for women and children,” Mrs Colvin said.
The director of the Social Justice Project at UNSW, Professor Julian Disney AO, who also addressed the NPC at the campaign launch, said the two major directions for reform were boosting housing supply and implementing moderate yet long-term tax reforms.
“The most important improvement that can be achieved relatively early is boosting the supply of affordable and accessible rental housing for lower-income people, especially those who would otherwise be homeless,” Professor Disney said.
When it came to tax reform, Professor Disney said the federal government needed to reduce the tax discount for capital gains as well as cutting the “excessive” tax deductions for negative gearing which are all “enjoyed” by the well-off home owners. He added that stamp duty on modestly priced homes should be removed too.
A new survey, which coincided with the launch, showed that two-thirds of Australians did not believe the federal government was doing enough about housing affordability.
The Plan’s five key elements:
- Develop a national housing strategy to meet shortfall of 500,000 social and affordable rental homes
- Prioritise first home-buyers over property speculators by resetting the tax system
- Provide nationally consistent protection for renters
- Provide immediate relief to people in housing stress by increasing rent assistance
- Commit to ending homelessness by 2030